Why is my Superstar Stumbling?

Boston Red Sox 2012 SeasonAs the Red Sox finish the worst season in memory, I came across a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge paper from last fall about why the Red Sox blew it last season. In the article, Carmen Nobel writes about Boris Groysberg’s work on superstars. In examining more than 1,000 Wall Street analysts, what Groysberg found is that those who were superstars at any given firm underperformed when they moved to another bank. He found that they underperformed not only early in the job but for years afterwards.

He noted the following factors as reasons why the superstars stumbled:

  • They are expected to thrive from the first day on the job with little or no training to help them adjust. I have found this to be a frequent occurrence. Managers often struggle with providing training or being directive with a team member who is very highly skilled or very experienced. They don’t want to offend the person or cause the individual to think the manager questions his capabilities. Everyone needs coaching and direction when they are in a new environment. Just because they were terrific at it in their old job doesn’t mean they know how it works here.
  • They may not fit with the existing team. Groysberg finds that the more interaction and dependence the superstar has on others the more issues there were with ‘star power portability.” A superstar salesperson’s success may be more portable than a scientist who is part of an R & D team. This argues for thinking about how the team or lack of a team impacts one’s ability to be successful. If team interaction and dependence is high, you need to make sure you know how the superstar works with others and how you’ll integrate them into the mix.
  • Leadership across the team. The management style needs to fit the team. Groysberg states that a collegial style fits if others on the team, including the superstar, act as leaders and set the tone. If the superstar is a maverick or not supporting other team members, a top down approach may be needed. Again, you need to look at the team and assess what management style is going to work.

Groysberg doesn’t argue against hiring superstars. Rather he says you need to make sure you are hiring well and developing them to work effectively in your culture.


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